Day 5: Toronto, Ontario (56.47 miles, 390 total miles)

In 1999 I bought a car after having been without one for eight years. For Christmas that year, my sister bought me a membership in AAA, which I have continued to this day. One of the great perks of being a AAA member is the TripTik, a stage by stage planned route showing all the AAA rated hotels, construction delays, etc. along the way. I first saw one in 1985 when Jeff Claus and I drove cross country and I always thought they were cool.

I wish there were a AAA for cyclists. Because honestly, while the online mapping software is good, it is far from perfect and often sends me down paths that aren’t there or roads that are closed for construction, requiring me to adapt and figure out a new route in a completely unfamiliar setting, and in a context where you don’t have a lot of wiggle room. Unlike in a car, you can’t just say, ‘Well, we’ll go 10 miles down this way and see what we find.’ Every mile out of the way is another mile of effort and exertion and one mile closer to exhaustion.

And so it was this morning that I was cursing the lack of a cycling AAA (ACA?) as the first leg of the journey turned into a 6 mile detour to nowhere. I headed out from the hotel and tried to reconnect with the trail I’d been on the evening before. For whatever reason, my mapping app was loading the maps along with the route (it may have been cached from loading the night before, especially since it worked only at a certain resolution), and so I followed the blue dot moving along the blue line.

cement plant

The route it took me on was a strange one—a service road that seemed to go alongside a cement quarry. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think anything of it since this “Waterside Trail” was often nowhere near the water and only sometimes a trail. In fact, it was occasionally a road just like the one I was on.
But suddenly, the road came to an end with a chain link fence and a detour sign, so I followed the signs and they led me in increasingly bizarre directions: through the middle of the quarry, along a back delivery road where a truck was coming along spraying down the surface, and then when it looked like the detour was finally going let me out: there was a gate blocking the way.

I went up to the gate, took off my packs and put them on the other side, lifted my bike over the fence, then finally climbed over it myself and continued on my way. The road was a scenic little road with modest little houses along the lakeshore, but it had one problem: it was going the wrong direction. When I finally followed it to its conclusion, it dumped me off right where I’d come into town the night before, right by my hotel. A big 6 mile pointless detour circle. This was when it occurred to me (and not for the first time) that we really need a biker’s AAA.

Now, I will sheepishly admit that after having mapped the route out after it was all over, it wasn’t that the mapping software had led me astray (they would later), but that I had missed the turn altogether. The proper turn looked to be an onramp for the highway, so I took the next turn, which followed so closely upon the other one, that at the resolution my GPS was functioning, they appeared to be the same route. You can take a look at the map at the bottom of this post and see what I mean.


And so, I wound up back on the road I had started out on, 6 miles spent and more than half an hour behind. The road that I wound up taking–Baseline Road–proved to be a decent road: relatively flat, relatively well paved, and large sections with a bike lane. I took this road for several miles before reconnecting with the trail later on.

And I was really glad to. Because now, finally, the trail was an actual trail, weaving its way through various parks. And though it had its share of those obnoxious seams (and for some reason inch-and-a-half high curbs), it was enjoyable to ride on. And then something wonderful happened and I had the best riding of the entire trip.

a nicely paved shady bike path with yellow divider down the middle

The trail eventually made its way down to the lakeshore–the actual lakeshore–and continued alongside the shore for miles. The pavement on the trail was smooth and easy going, the hills were gentle and allowed you to get some real speed going down the other side. And the trail was lined with wildflowers. All in all, a really enjoyable ride as you can see from this video where I climb a hill and then as I crest it you can see the lake off to the left:

The trail was an interesting one. It didn’t always hug the shore, but when it went off the shore, it sometimes got really interesting, with bridges and paths through small wooded areas:
bike path along the lake

This portion of the trail came to an end and the route took me back onto surface roads. The road wasn’t terrible, but the temperatures were already beginning to rise and the heat of pavement in the midst of traffic is a lot warmer than a breezy ride along the lake front.

There was construction at one point that reduced the traffic to one lane. These situations always make me nervous because I can only go so fast and there’s a huge line of cars behind me waiting to get through. And so I pedal really hard to get through the gauntlet and then as soon as the opportunity presents itself to pull over and let the cars go by, I do. And so this time I got through and pulled off onto the bumpy soft shoulder, which proved to be one bump too many for my GoPro mount, which snapped off and sent the camera tumbling (no worries, it’s a pretty tough camera; there’s footage online of a skydiver dropping his and the camera survives the fall). So, I put the camera in my bag and continued on.

Eventually, the route returned to the lakefront and I was back on some really interesting trails, including one that went high up on a bluff and took you across a bridge. That bridge, interestingly, had a sign on it that made a somewhat interesting use of quotation marks:

Since I am an actual cyclist and not a so-called “cyclist” I decided that I could ignore the message.

Eventually, I crossed another bridge and the trail took me down to the lakefront at a beach near the mouth of the Rouge River. It was the perfect spot for a lunch break. And so I parked my bike near two large rocks in the shade and dined on various granola bars, etc. I had with me. I also took the opportunity to remount the GoPro. Since the part that allowed me to mount it the way I’d had it had broken, I could mount it with the remaining parts but the angle is different and it ride much higher and further back (you may see the front reflector in some of the shots). I also applied some chain oil to the bike and cleaned some of the gear wheels in the rear derailleur (you can probably hear it squeaking in the videos above). Here, for your enjoyment, is a brief video of the sounds of the beach, including the children from some summer camp engaged in a scavenger hunt.

After about 45 minutes, I got back on the bike and headed out. There were still some really great sections of the route along the lakefront, on which the sandy beaches had yielded to rocky shores:

If the initial detour at the beginning of the day was the result of human error, the final leg of the lakeshore route was definitely an argument for the establishment of a cyclist’s AAA. I followed the route as mapped out and as confirmed by signs saying “Waterfront Trail” and indicating what direction to go in. The trail was wending its way through more of Canadian suburbia (by the way, it has been impossible for me not to hear Rush’s song “Subdivisions” every time I go through one of these cookie-cutter neighborhoods), when suddenly I was at a dead end. There was a sign pointing to a trail that went off into the woods.

overgrown trail
Not exactly bike friendly

As I’ve said, the surface of this trail has varied wildly and here it was clearly going back to a dirt trail. Then suddenly grass. Then dirt and mud up an insanely steep hill. There was no way my tires could grip this surface, not with an additional 40 pounds (13.6 kg) on it, anyway. So I dismounted and walked the bike up. I remember when George and Gene and I would take bike rides as a kid and we’d always wind up having to walk our bikes up Oil Mill Hill at the end of the day. This felt just like that.

The bizarre woodland path (which had no business being a part of this trip) finally yielded to neighborhood streets that dumped me on to my old friend Route 2, the Kingston Highway. As enjoyable as the riding had been, I was glad to have the opportunity to just bike in a straight line and make good time. And I did. There were some moderate inclines, but I was making good time. At one point, some kid came riding up on his bike on the sidewalk next to the road and I beat him up the hill. As tired as I’d been feeling, I guess all this riding is actually making me stronger.

city street with CN tower in the distance

Finally, Toronto hove into view. It’s hard to make out in this picture, but if you look carefully, you can see the CN tower in the background. The remainder of the trip was fast and easy and I got to my hotel around 3:15, definitely my earliest stopping time of the whole trip. And I was glad to have the extra time to rest up a bit, do some laundry, have a massage therapist work my legs over, and go to dinner atop the CN tower with nighttime Toronto below.

It was a good day of riding and I’ve made it half way in terms of miles and time. Tomorrow, I turn the corner, literally, around the lake and begin to head back east, with the wind at my back for once, as I set out for the next stage of the journey: Niagara Falls.

map of bike route to Toronto

Location:Toronto, Ontario, Canada